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Photograph by Robert Zuckerman
BRIAN TRUST: Helen Mirren, Nicolas Cage and Diane Kruger pool their knowledge in 'National Treasure: Book of Secrets."

Lincoln Logjam

Nicolas Cage reopens Abe's assassination file in 'National Treasure' sequel

By Richard von Busack

DISNEY'S ABILITY to make a good-bad movie continues undiminished in National Treasure: Book of Secrets. Like one of the lesser Bonds, the film switches scenery a lot. And it stages the kind of scenes you can only do if you have deep pockets, such as a sequence in the Jefferson Building at the Library of Congress. A car chase through some London streets also looks like the money is onscreen for a change. There, Bond geeks will appreciate the steal from the novel Moonraker, with Fuller's kegs instead of newsprint logs.

The movie is really about nothing more than Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage) clearing his family name. At a lecture, the toupeed treasure hunter is confronted by the evil rival Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris). Wilkinson produces a document that seemingly proves that one of Gates' relatives was an unindicted co-conspirator in the death of Lincoln. Whipping out a quick line of obvious baloney, Gates claims that proving his grandfather's innocence is a matter of great moment; he claims that supposed Lincoln assailant Dr. Mudd gave us the expression "His name is mud(d)," and such will be his ancestor's name if he is not vindicated. (In a film this pedantic about codes, we might as well check the Oxford Book of Quotations and see that the citation "me name is Mud" goes to one Clarence James Dennis, in "The Sentimental Bloke," 1916.

In any case, the historical accusation gets the ball rolling. Gates, newly separated from Abigail (Diane Kruger), has to charm her back. Kruger's demure prettiness in her post-Troy movies has created, in this film watcher, "the Montgomery Burns effect." Every time she turns up, it's like that temporary amnesia that strikes the plutocrat upon first sight of Homer. "Hmmm, who is that perfectly adequate blonde actress?" Having persuaded his ex back into treasure hunting, Gates recruits computer expert Riley (Justin Bartha). With geek in hand, Gates solicits help from his father, Patrick (Jon Voigt), and his ornery mother (Helen Mirren).

In various squads, this cuddlier version of the Impossible Mission Force breaks into inner sanctums in London and Washington, including the secret tunnels underneath Mt. Vernon. In the latter, Gates has to kidnap the president (Bruce Greenwood), right after restaging the scuba-suit/tuxedo quick change from the opening of Goldfinger. ("One day I'm going to wear this tuxedo to a party I'm invited to," Cage murmurs.) The role of Gates fits Cage like a straitjacket, not a tux; flirting over some flowers in an elevator is the only time Cage gets to express himself as an actor. The grand finale takes place in some sort of archaeological site –cum-water park, the kind of thing Vegas does better. It's not especially a happy sight to see an actress of Mirren's importance bobbing around in the studio tank. Moreover, the villain's motivation just doesn't cut the mustard. After claiming descent from a Confederate general, isn't Mitch supposed to have some revived Knights of the Golden Circle in mind, with the great-grandson of Jefferson Davis waiting in the wings, ready to be crowned King of Virginia or something?

Movie Times NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS (PG; 124 min.), directed by Jon Turteltaub, written by Cormac and Marianne Wibberley, photographed by Amir M. Mokri and John Schwartzman and starring Nicolas Cage, plays valleywide.

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